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Probe to Begin into Allegations CIA Sold Crack to Fund Contras

By Michael A. Fletcher
The Washington Post

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus Thursday called for federal investigations into allegations that the Central Intelligence Agency was instrumental in introducing crack cocaine into black communities in the 1980s as part of a plan to raise money for the Nicaraguan Contra rebels then fighting to overthrow their country's leftist government.

The allegations were raised in a series of articles published last month by the San Jose Mercury News, in which the newpaper reported that the highly addictive form of cocaine was smuggled into the United States in the 1980s and sold to inner-city blacks in Los Angeles to help support the Contras' struggle.

The CIA has flatly denied the allegations, and deny any links with two key people named in the stories as CIA operatives who worked with the U.S.-backed Contras. In a letter to Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., who has led the calls for an investigation, CIA Director John M. Deutch said a review of agency records "supports the conclusion that the agency neither participated in nor condoned drug trafficking by Contra forces."

He added that while he believes there is "no substance" to the newspaper allegations, he has asked the agency's inspector general to conduct an internal review of the matter. Attorney General Janet Reno also wrote to Waters and said the Justice Department has conducted a preliminary inquiry into the matter that found no evidence to support the allegations against the CIA. The caucus has asked both agencies to investigate the allegations.

The official denials did little to dampen the emotions the allegations have ignited among black leaders. At the Congressional Black Caucus' annual legislative conference, which began Wednesday, many took the newspaper's stories as confirmation of a conspiracy theory that has circulated in the black community for years about why so many poor, black neighborhoods are awash in drugs.

"When these horrible things happen in the black community, people feel there must be someone behind it," said C. Vernon Gray, a political-science professor at Morgan State University. "Being being unable to explain it, it becomes a conspiracy theory, the work of an unseen hand."

Gray said these suspicions are fanned by such incidents as the infamous Tuskegee experiment in which 399 African-American men with syphilis were not treated for 40 years to allow government researchers to study the natural course of the disease. Only after the fact was the experiment revealed.

The intense interest in the possibility that the U.S. government helped flood black communities with drugs drew more than 2,500 people many who crowded into a large auditorium for an emotionally charged discussion of the issue.

"There has been no war on drugs," Waters said to a cheering crowd. "There has been no real effort to interdict the drugs coming into this country. The people that we have depended on, now we find have responsiblity for help bringing it in the first place."

Wednesday, political activist Dick Gregory, and radio talk-show host and national NAACP board member Joe Madison were arrested outside of CIA headquarters as they attempted to hand-deliver a copy of the newspapers series to Deutch.